Award-winning restaurateur and executive chef Justin Miles is a tenacious taskmaster, of himself and his team. This attitude, coupled with his world travels, has ensured success for Windy Point in South Australia and cemented it as an industry leader
I started as an apprentice chef with Ann Oliver at Mistress Augustine’s in North Adelaide. She became my mentor and I learnt so much about precision from her. Soon after becoming a sous chef, I moved to London, where I dropped back to the bottom of the food chain.
Still, I was determined and excited to be in a city that was building the foundation of modern cooking. So, I knocked on the door of Bibendum Restaurant and they gave me a chance. That was largely because I was an Aussie and they knew we are workhorses, but I got in just by knocking on the door. That’s the motivation I expect from my own staff. You can teach skill and technique, but you can’t give someone enthusiasm.
In London, I would arrive at work at 7.45am and then catch the last Tube after midnight. The hospitality industry is high octane, adrenaline fuelled, exciting and stressful. I once read that chefs are the second most stressed professionals behind air-traffic controllers. Of course, our work isn’t on the same level, but I understand the comparison.
I left London after a year and returned to Adelaide. After being on the opening team for Michael Hill-Smith’s Universal Wine Bar, I gained my first head chef position at The Wellington Hotel, North Adelaide. I moved to Thredbo in New South Wales shortly before the landslide in 1997. Seeing the beautiful resort town heal and get back on its feet taught me that no matter what adversity comes your way, there is always a way to get through.
Following Thredbo I moved to Ricky Ricardo’s in Noosa where there was a lot of pressure. People from Melbourne and Sydney would book a table before booking their flights.
But that was nothing compared to managing the kitchen at Noosa Springs golf resort. It was my first time in a corporate situation and the standards and scope of management were so different. In my first year, we served about 14 events; in my final year we did 700.
At Windy Point, our customers are often generational customers. You might come here as a child, then as an adult and then with your own children. Windy Point is for anyone who is celebrating anything from an 18th to an 80th. I first came here for my Year 12 graduation and I already thought then it was the pinnacle of dining in Adelaide.
When I came into the business seven years ago, the edict from [then owner] Bill Sparr was to make Windy Point contemporary and relevant. It had such a strong foundation; it just needed some tweaking through understanding who our customers are and what our base standard is.
Soon after I started, the global financial crisis hit and fine dining quickly became an unviable business model. We changed the format to formal dining instead and we became more efficient and streamlined. We asked people to play to their strengths and we trained our floor team as salespeople.
Today diners are more discerning than they have ever been before so it is a real challenge for us to retain that relevance. A lot of people want the newest and trendiest experiences. Still, Windy Point can stand up to that competition. It’s fantastic for us to be able to open the doors every day to people who are really, genuinely interested in a high quality food experience. We deal in provenance and we want to serve South Australia with integrity. I think the state is very fortunate to have such a strong supply of the best produce. Excellence is our minimum standard and we must constantly self-evaluate.
It was enormously rewarding to be South Australia’s [Savour Australia Restaurant & Catering HOSTPLUS Awards for Excellence] Restaurant of the Year in 2013. For an established venue to take home the gong was unbelievable. It was great recognition for a team that toiled through difficult financial times and it confirmed for me that we are relevant. Awards are wonderful but any business would give them up to be sustainable. Customer satisfaction and the volume of meals we put through the kitchen have always been the best measure of success.
We’re an evening venue with very little walk-by traffic and we still do 50,000 meals per year. We are a destination venue with very high standards of service and that’s our point of difference. Now, after being here seven years, I can’t see myself being anywhere else. I’m motivated to come to work every day and that’s quite something.